The Story of the 2017 Rochester Honkers
The 2017 Rochester Honkers certainly left their mark in the record books and on the Northwoods League. The offense was loaded top-to-bottom with power and truly showcased it in a historic way. The team hit a Northwoods League single-season record 76 home runs, breaking their own record of 68 held by the 2012 team. The Honkers were the only team in the league to have three different players hit 10 or more home runs and finished seventh in the league in total bases and on-base percentage. While the team was renowned for its power, they also showed patience at the plate, drawing 373 walks, which were third-best in the league. The Flock started the season 11-3 at home and held a clear home-field advantage throughout the season, as they maintained a batting average of .274 at home. The Honkers offense hit 52 of their home runs at Mayo Field, leading to the frequent playing of the Honkin’ Horn, a unique compilation that is played after each home run. The horn debuted in the 2017 season and features a fog horn and geese calls, along with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Above: Weston Hatten (Nevada) and Coach Thomas Walker (UC Riverside)
First baseman Zach Zubia burst onto the scene after redshirting his first season at Texas. Zubia was named the Northwoods League’s Most Valuable Player after batting .311 and breaking two Northwoods League single-season records for home runs (22) and extra-base hits (41). He took the league-lead for home runs in late June and never gave it up, finishing with nine more home runs than any other player. The five-time Northwoods League Player of the Night also led the league in RBIs (62), walks (57), and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.127), while also leading the North Division in runs scored (61). Zubia was named a Midseason and Postseason All-Star at first base and also selected to the Major League Dreams Showcase. During the All-Star break, he was crowned the Individual Champion of the Home Run Derby after hitting five home runs in the derby. In addition to his league-wide achievements, Zubia made a mark on the Honkers’ record books, breaking seven single-season team records, including games played, runs scored, RBIs, total bases, and walks.
His historic season was imminent from the very beginning. Zubia started the season on a 33-game on-base streak and held a batting average above .300 for all but seven games. He hit multiple home runs in four different games and at one point in August, Zubia had hit as many home runs (21) as the entire Kalamazoo Growlers team.
Above: Zach Zubia
Five temporary players were signed to play the remainder of the season, including local talent Michael Michalak (Des Moines Area CC), Jordan Hart (Minnesota State-Mankato), and Johnathan Fleek (Western Illinois). Manny Armendariz (Doane) and Ethan Ibarra (St. Cloud State) also earned full-time contracts after performing well in the first half.
The local players on the roster stepped up and made the most of their opportunity. Michalak, a graduate of Rochester Mayo High School, played four different positions throughout the season for the Honkers, but spent most of his time at third base. He broke out during a doubleheader sweep against the then-division-leading Waterloo Bucks, batting five-for-eight with two home runs. Fleek, from Albert Lea, impressed coaches with tremendous fielding at both shortstop and second base and displayed great speed on the base paths. He batted .220 with seven doubles, 18 RBIs, and 25 runs scored. Hart, from Lyle, was selected to the NWL Home Run Derby in July after hitting six home runs in the first half. He also displayed solid defense in right field and robbed a St. Cloud Rox batter of a home run on June 1. Ryan Thompson (Illinois), a Byron-native, finished second on the team with 39 strikeouts in 41.1 over 10 starts. He pitched 5.1 innings at home against Eau Claire on July 7. He struck out seven batters while giving up one earned run.
Above: Michael Michalak
The Honkers roster also included a player from outside of the United States. Right-handed pitcher Chia-Ching Ho (National Taiwan Sports University), from Taichung, Taiwan, pitched in the starting rotation. He finished with a record of 2-2 on the season with a 4.38 ERA in eight starts. His best game of the season came in relief in Waterloo. Ho pitched four scoreless innings without giving up a hit while striking out three batters and walking three.
Above: Chia-Ching Ho
The 2017 season started with an impressive 13-12 victory over the Mankato MoonDogs on opening night. The Honkers overcame deficits of 7-0 and 10-6 and scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single by Cam Adams (North Park) in the eighth inning. Six Honkers collected multiple hits in the game, including a home run and triple by Zubia.
The Honkers won seven of ten games from June 6 to June 16, starting with a 10-6 road victory in Duluth. Ryan Dorney (St. Martin’s) pitched six strong innings in his second start of the season. Manny Armendariz held the Huskies scoreless in the remaining three innings and struck out five batters for the save. The Honker offense heated up in June and started turning heads after hitting 14 home runs over an eight-game span.
Eddie Mathis (Bellarmine) led the pitching staff in strikeouts through the first half and looked dominant after some early struggles. He struck out 35 batters in five starts, including 10 at Mankato on June 15. His best start came on June 22 in Eau Claire when he pitched seven innings to earn the win, giving up one unearned run with eight strikeouts and a walk.
Above: Eddie Mathis
The Flock started the second half with a North Division-best 6-2 record, including a 6-1 victory over the North Division First-Half Champion St. Cloud Rox to open the half. The month of July featured extended hot streaks from batters Morgan McCullough (Oregon) and Konnor Zickefoose (UC Irvine). McCullough held a season-high 35-game on-base streak, two games shy of tying the team record. He finished the season with a .289 batting average, seven doubles, and 24 runs scored. Zickefoose held a 16-game home hitting streak as well as a 15-game overall hitting streak, both of which were the longest on the team.
Thompson, Kenyon Yovan (Oregon), and David Noworyta (Hawaii), along with Zubia were selected to participate in the Major League Dreams Showcase. Zubia hit a two-run home run to left field in the first inning of the exhibition game. Yovan struck out two batters and Thompson pitched a scoreless inning. Noworyta played five innings at catcher, but was sent in to pitch after a 5-5 tie sent the game into the eleventh inning. Noworyta pitched a scoreless inning and struck out a batter in what would be the final half-inning of the game.
Above: Ryan Thompson
The starting rotation heated up in the second half of the season led by Armendariz and Drew Slade (Ripon). After spending time in the bullpen for much of the first half, Armendariz and Slade were given the chance to start and seized the opportunity. Armendariz earned wins in his first three starts, including pitching seven scoreless innings against St. Cloud and Thunder Bay in back-to-back starts. Slade lasted seven innings in six of his ten starts and was second on the staff with 39 strikeouts. Michael Stryffeler (Lake Erie) broke out in his seventh start of the season against Bismarck on August 6. He pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out 11 batters—the most by a Honker pitcher in 2017.
Above: The Honkers team after the season finale on August 13
The 2017 season was filled with terrific plays, outstanding performances, and life-lasting memories that will forever remain in the history of the Rochester Honkers. Watch out for the players on the 2017 roster in future, because they may, one day, end up in the big leagues.